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7th Circuit orders judge to reconsider dismissal of prisoner’s suit

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Finding that a District Court judge should have tried to learn why an inmate had not paid his initial filing fee on a lawsuit before the judge dismissed it for nonpayment, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to take another look at the case.

In Leonard Thomas v. Keith Butts, et al., 12-2902, inmate Leonard Thomas sued prison officials and medical personnel at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, alleging they violated 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for deliberate indifference to his epilepsy in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ordered Thomas to pay an initial partial filing fee of $8.40 based on Thomas’ average monthly balance on his prisoner trust account of $43.50 and current ending balance of 2 cents.

A month after the payment deadline passed, Magnus-Stinson dismissed the case without prejudice because the fee hadn’t been paid. Thomas sent a letter to the court five weeks after the dismissal seeking to appeal it. His delay in payment was because he had no funds in his account, and his delay appealing was because he did not have access to the law library, he told the judge. Magnus-Stinson then extended his deadline to appeal, and Thomas filed his appeal.

“[B]efore dismissing Thomas’s suit, the district court should have attempted to learn why the fee had not been paid by, for example, issuing a show-cause order. Thomas asserts on appeal that he could not pay the initial fee because he simply had no funds and no income when payment was due. That may be correct: The transaction record that Thomas submitted to the district court shows that his ending account balance was only $0.02, that he received no deposits in the previous two months, and that only $1.50 had been deposited into the account during the previous three months,” the per curiam opinion states. “But the truth of his assertion that he lacked funds, and whether he can be faulted for lacking them, is for the district court to determine in the first instance.”
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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